The island of St. Martin is actually two countries. The French side (St. Martin) is on the northeastern side of the island and the Dutch side (Sint Maarten) is on the southwestern side. The countries’ borders run through a large lagoon, Simpson Bay Lagoon. The rules allow people to travel in cars or dinghies between the two countries without having to clear customs, but if you move your boat from one to the other you have clear out of one country and into the other, paying fees to each country.
We had a calm overnight crossing which went faster than we anticipated, so we arrived in Marigot Bay, St. Martin in the wee hours of the morning. Marigot is on the western side of St. Martin within the French side. After getting some sleep we checked into the customs office in Marina Royale and enjoyed lunch at one of the many French restaurants lining the waterfront there. The restaurants are all open air and display their menus on the walkway. If you slow down to look at a menu you are immediately greeted and offered a table. The waitress from La France offered us a beer or glass of wine “on the house,” so we had our lunch there. The Tuna Tartare was delicious.
We spent a couple of days in Marigot Bay getting settled in, provisioning and exploring the area before moving on to Grand Case, which is a small bay on the northwestern side of French St. Martin. There we found our friends, John & Jennifer of Noel’s Delight and enjoyed a wonderful dinner with them at Le Shambala, overlooking the bay.
There is an old concrete dinghy dock which makes for an adventure just to tie up and get out of the dinghy, especially when the wind and waves are up. It is up higher out of the water than most and has no footholds for climbing. And then it becomes even more of an adventure to get back in the dinghy, especially after drinks with dinner.
Pete’s brother Bob and his wife Peggy came to spend a week with us. In preparation for their visit we moved to the Dutch side of the island to Simpson Bay and then into a marina, Port de Plaisance (PDP). All around us were boats that are measured in the hundreds of feet, most with professional crews on board. We felt somewhat dwarfed, but enjoyed being treated with the same courtesies that the big yachts receive. They even sent a dinghy out to escort us to our slip! When Bob and Peggy’s taxi arrived, the marina staff loaded them and their luggage into a golf cart and drove them right to Delphinus.
The next day we left PDP and returned to the French side of the Simpson Bay Lagoon. We spent a couple of days exploring the areas around Marina Royale and downtown Marigot before returning to Grand Case. The dinghy dock was just as challenging as last time but we managed to get all four of us on shore for another great meal at Le Shambala. The next day Pete and Bob tried their luck with snorkeling at Roche Creole but said there wasn’t much to see there.
We decided to return to Simpson Bay Lagoon where the dinghy docks are much easier to use and there is plenty to see and do within walking distance of the dock. Access into and out of the Lagoon is through drawbridges which only open at certain times, so we had to plan our moves accordingly. We wandered through the many shops and ate some wonderful French food along the way. Too soon it was time for Bob and Peggy to return to the states, so we took them over to the Dutch Side by dinghy, had lunch at a small French Bakery and put them into a cab bound for the airport.
On Saturday night there was a Cruisers Party at Buchaneer Beach hosted by Bob and Jody Bitchin’ of Cruising Outpost Magazine (formerly of Latitudes & Attitudes). Once again we caught up with our friends John & Jennifer, and met new friends Matt and Christie on S/V Sugar Shack, and had a great time. Live music, cold beer and good food! We’ve read about these parties in Bob’s magazines and it was great to be there and be part of one.
Sunday afternoon was the big Carnivale parade through the streets of Marigot. There were dozens of groups of costumed dancers with each group accompanied by a DJ or live band on a truck to provide their music. Each groups’ costumes were more elaborate than the last and I think the music got louder with each passing group.
After nearly a month in St. Martin it was starting to feel like home. We had become familiar with the grocery stores (Simply on the French side and Carrefour on the Dutch side), had found favorite restaurants (Le Shambala and Le Galion) and bakeries (Serafina and Le Creperie), laundry with WiFi (Shrimpy’s), wine store (La Gout du Vin), and even figured out a couple of shortcuts through the winding streets. We had a wonderful time in St. Martin and will miss it.
On Thursday, February 11 we left St. Martin for St. Barthélemy (St. Barth’s for short). We’ll spend a couple of days here before we make the jump to Antigua. We’re looking forward to a visit from my Dad and his friend Doris in Antigua and exploring that island with them.
Bonus photos: Just some beauties we’ve passed along the way.
Stay tuned and stay in touch!